*It is not without a defined sense of vulnerability that I write about my experience on the delivery of my first child for all and sundry to read, should they chance upon my blog. However, I figure no story on motherhood is complete without taking this huge step, and so, as with anything new or unknown, I take the leap…
**One more disclaimer before I begin. It’s primal and raw, this whole labor, giving birth thing. I certainly don’t wish to sensationalize the whole affair, nor do I wish to beautify and clean it up in any way. This is simply a subjective account of my own experience which I wish to present as honestly as my memory allows. If you wish to keep lady bits and bottoms, be they yours or someone else’s, shrouded in the feminine mystique, I am sure there are other blogs that can help with that. If you are cool with the facts of life, then we are good to go!
***This last one is for pregnant women, especially those about to go through their first labor. Each woman’s experience is going to be different, usually with a bunch of variables and unknown factors thrown in that even the most well-prepared cannot account for. I found that waiting until after birth to read or listen to other women’s stories was particularly helpful for me. Throughout my pregnancy, I made a concerted effort to keep other people’s ‘war stories’ at a minimum. I didn’t want to get depressed, scared or feel disappointed at having my expectations raised too high, depending on whether the birth was terrifying and excruciating or orgasmic and blissful. I didn’t want to be affected by insensitive naysayers or well-intentioned people dishing out unsolicited advice. I wanted to approach my time with as neutral and as open a mind as possible. Having said that, the choice is yours…
GOING INTO LABOR
My expected date of delivery was Friday, March 7, 2014. Friday came, Friday went. No baby. Saturday and Sunday came and went. No baby. No biggie, since about 50% of first-time babies are born past their due date. I will say though, that in addition to the early weeks of the first trimester when you feel all kinds of out of sorts, those last three days were the most difficult of my pregnancy. The word expecting implies a lot: expecting a baby, expecting your body to feel normal again, expecting relief, expecting and anticipating the drama of delivery…you really are waiting and expecting, in a purgatory of sorts, ready to cross over to the other side, yet slightly wary of the method to get there.
Monday, March 10th arrived and I felt physically constricted and mentally restless and jittery. In the way you see with fussy horses sometimes; not wishing to be touched yet craving relief; unable to get comfortable in any position, or stay comfortable for very long. Cramps that felt menstrual started coming and going. I had read up on what to look out for and the three signs that signify “show-time” can be read in more detail on my favorite pregnancy blog. They are, really quickly, the cervix plug being released either in a lump or as increased discharge over a number of days, contractions (the real ones, not the ‘false labor’ Braxton Hicks’ ones). The real ones increase over time and get more intense. The last thing to look out for is the water breaking, and you can assume that you will be giving birth shortly after.
By midmorning, I had passed my cervix plug and kept feeling these crampy contractions. By afternoon, the cramps began to increase in sensation but were still relatively far apart. Petri and I managed to make it to lunch at our favorite place in the mid-afternoon, but I was definitely squirming around, feeling my body in an increasingly intense way. After lunch, we went for a short walk to try and ease things and all the while, I followed the best piece of advice that was given to me throughout my pregnancy: whenever the wave of sensation hits, breath and count to seven. This helped me manage the pain quite well, as my mind was occupied with the simple task of counting and quite consistently, by about count seven or nine, the contraction had subsided. It was also familiar territory to a yogini ashtangi like me, used to breathing and counting through the sensation of various yoga poses. Nice!
Back home, I drew about three baths for myself for the rest of the afternoon and into the evening. Hydrotherapy is highly recommended in these circumstances, and as a true-blue water baby myself, being immersed in water was the one place I felt truly relaxed, happy and physically liberated throughout my pregnancy. Between baths and breathing, stretching and moving gently about the house, I passed my time in this way until about 9pm. Then I began to notice the rhythm of the contractions which we are looking for, the good ol’ 1:5:1, i.e., contractions that are one minute long and occur every five minutes for an hour. By 10.15pm, Petri had called the hospital and we were advised to stay at home for as long as it feels comfortable, which could be anywhere from the next 15 minutes to 2 or 3 more hours. We decided to have a little snack and watch a movie. I got so into the movie (the new Spike Jonze flick Her) that the contractions eased off for awhile and I was able to eat in relative peace. By around midnight, Petri was starting to nod off, so I suggested he get some rest and I would take another bath. Oh, and by the way, another lovely little difference between false labor and real labor contractions are that the real ones are accompanied by flu-like symptoms, meaning anywhere from nausea to vomiting and diarrhea. Yup, I had been having some of those symptoms throughout the evening, so I was pretty sure it was getting to be the time to pack off for the hospital. I woke Petri somewhere between 1 and 2am and we started to get ready. At this point, even Joaquin Phoenix couldn’t distract me from contractions which were smoothly and steadily increasing and with me getting more and more uninhibited about showing just how I feel about it all…
Some time after 2am, we drive to the hospital, which takes about 10 minutes, since Helsinki town is quiet at that time of the night on a Tuesday. We find the place where we have been directed to go. I chose to give birth at the Helsinki Midwives College Hospital, Kätilöopisto Sairaala, as they offer more alternative and holistic approaches to childbirth. Once we’ve been admitted, we are taken to a monitoring room where they strap some monitoring (naturally) machines around my belly to check the heart rate and some other stuff relevant to the birth. The nurse asks me if I want some medical intervention to help relieve the pain; I inform her I will do without for the time being, as I wish to have as natural a birth as possible. My cervix is dilated between 3-4cm (10 cm being full dilation). Meanwhile, I feel a constant urge to go to the bathroom and relieve myself, as the downward flow of energy, known as apana in yoga and Ayurveda, is so strong.
We are shortly directed to a birthing room, which has, in addition to the standard hospital bed and medical equipment, lots of space for mum to walk about in, a big, red bouncy exercise ball, and a shower room! In my birth plan I had requested to have a water birth, but sadly for me, a woman was using it at the time and it wouldn’t be ready for several hours. My attending midwife and her assistant suggest that I get under the shower and sit on the bouncy ball, which I do, and which feels really helpful! I bounce under the water for a good long while. Meanwhile, Petri has put on some nice chants which he recorded from India. The horrible fluorescent lights, ubiquitous to hospitals, are kept to a minimum and there is a salt lamp by the window, which provides a nice, soft hue. I get out of the shower, dry off the bouncy ball and continue bouncing on it as I lean onto the hospital bed. I am given some pineapple juice, which is known to help induce labor. By now, the contractions are at a Code Orange level of intensity and I turn to Petri and remark something like, “Man, Petri, this is no joke!,” to which he most affably agrees. Petri has been a calm, steady presence throughout, giving space, not showing at all if it disturbs him that his wife is experiencing a certain degree of suffering. Going through what needs to be gone through. To be honest, if the tables were turned, I might get very upset watching a loved one go through something like this and insist pain medication be administered, more for my sake than the laboring woman’s. One’s support system at a time like this is crucial!
Back in the delivery room, all of a sudden, I feel a tremendous surge of discomfort and end up running to the bathroom and vomiting, long and hard. I haven’t thrown up in many years and had forgotten how the sheer force of this action is both violent and terrifying. Once I am empty, I brush my teeth and try to rid the taste in my mouth. I get back on the ball and bounce for a bit until I feel the urge to go to the bathroom yet again, thinking it’s another bout of diarrhea. I hear a splash of water instead, which I can only guess is my water breaking. The midwives are informed and I decide to get under the shower again to sooth my nerves.
I am in the shower, bouncing on the ball and the assistant midwife comes in to tell me I should get to the bed and strapped with the equipment, so that I can be closely monitored. I reluctantly turn off the shower, stand up and quite suddenly, feel this CODE RED NEED to push, bear down, go to the toilet and get more diarrhea and/or this baby out of me. “My baby’s coming!” I cry and the assistant all but panics, pushes the emergency alarm to summon the midwife and commands me to stop pushing! (Huh?! That’s like asking a dam about to burst to hold back, to contain an angry swelling current). I can hardly move at this point, I’m confused and have been taken unawares, so I ask her to help me and together we hobble to the bed.
Now I have read and watched enough Ina May Gaskin (America’s foremost midwife) to know that lying down on one’s back is a most unnatural position for childbirth (gravity is not used), and felt really uncomfortable on my back, even on an incline. I managed to turn to my side, which wasn’t great, but slightly better and so the pushing began. Eventually, they shifted me into a kind of squat position, so I could, thank you very much, use the force of gravity. Each time a contraction came, I was told to push. And I pushed. And pushed. I pushed until I thought I couldn’t push anymore and the next time someone instructed me to push, I had to make it clear that, ” I AM f***ing pushing!” (Once I was back in a more civilized state of mind, I had to use my good English-school girl manners and apologize demurely to the midwives (and to Petri) for swearing at them. Oops). Petri had been holding onto my hands throughout the pushes. It was a great help for me to be able to squeeze his warm, soothing hands. At some point though, he left to go and fiddle-faddle with the video recorder and I got super-vulnerable saying something to the effect of him never being there when I need him or always being too slow. Most unfair, true, but all I can say is that a woman in labor is engaging her inner primate. She’s stripped bare. Be sure not to take anything she says personally. That, plus, relationship dynamics have a way of surfacing under times of real stress. Again, not to be taken personally. A woman in labor is working bloody hard, facing her most dark, primordial moment (alone, when it comes down to it) so it seems reasonable to expect that stuff might come up and out.
Eventually, the crowning started, which is when the baby’s head becomes visible. One of the midwives asked if I would like to touch my baby’s head and I at first got all shy and said no, but then quickly got over that one and reached down to feel a soft, little fuzzy expanse. There was still a way to go, however, and each time a contraction subsided, so did the power of the push. Now I myself cannot be clear on the details, as I am in the limbic, reptilian part of my brain at this stage, nothing but hormones and sensation and energy, trying to get this life out of me. Petri recalls I had about six pushing attempts, and on the last one, I look down and see this tiny, bloody bundle getting bigger and bigger until, on Tuesday, March 11, 2014 at 4:44am, a newborn baby comes out of me and into the world.
And then I hear… the cry.
That great, lucid affirmation of “I exist. I am here.” That sound, so clear, feels distinctly marked for my ears, and is utterly unique from what one usually hears when babies and children cry (either for ‘legitimate’ reasons or the large, histrionic crocodile tears for other reasons entirely). I ask the sex, although a part of me has already guessed, and it’s confirmed it’s a boy. I ask to hold my baby, never mind about the blood, I just want to get this baby close to my skin, next to my beating heart. The umbilical cord is clamped after a minute or two, when the pulsation has stopped and the baby slowly finds his way to my chest, where he finds his mother crying tears of awe, wonder, and most of all, relief! “My baby, my son, that’s my baby!” He looks so small, he looks like a wrinkly old man. He looks like something both ancient and timeless, coming from a different realm: part fish, part animal, part alien. And while I have never been a huge fan of science fiction, save for Madeleine L’Engel’s classic, A Wrinkle in Time, did I, in my postpartum daze, just see his eyes, these huge, liquid pools of quiet, alert awareness, blink sideways, instead of up and down? No matter…he looks divine…
So, from start to finish, my labor was relatively quick and short. We checked in at 2:42am and the baby was born at 4:44am. The rest that followed was pretty routine: a vitamin K shot was given to the baby, my placenta came out after awhile, I had to be stitched in two places. I only remember feeling cold, so very cold right afterwards, shivering uncontrollably. The midwives, bless them, basically had to rush off to tend to another birth and we are left alone to bond with our baby for a good two hours, until the morning shift nurses come to bathe our baby and give us breakfast.
This point in the narrative feels like a good time to take a moment and give a huge shout out to all the midwives, nurses and women running that show over there at the midwive’s hospital. During our four days there, I encountered only one male nurse who came to draw blood to check on my son’s blood-sugar level. It’s a distinctly feminine sphere over there and the work in the delivery ward is one of tremendous physical and emotional demand. In retrospect, it’s pretty wild having these intimate strangers administer something like this; in what is, ultimately, a deeply private and mysterious world.
More to follow over the next few weeks. If you would like to follow my story, please subscribe to my blog. Here’s a picture of our little Sesam, a day or two old, for you all, my dear readers 🙂
Stay blessed and enjoy the life you live. Om!